My friend's children just returned from college. So did mine. She has been spending most of her time in the laundry room. So have I.

"I thought it would be food," she sighed, "but it isn't - it's towels!"

She's right. She has four children. I have five. The three still at home, and my husband and I, use one, perhaps two, bath towels a week.

Now we are seven. My oldest son and daughter are back and the house is dripping with towels. There are a stack of clean ones Monday morning, ready for the onslaught. Two days later my daughter asked, "Where are the clean towels?"

"In the linen closet."

"There aren't any."

"There MUST be."

"There aren't."

She was right. There weren't any clean towels.

"I'm going to have to re-train them," wailed my friend. "They used to be so GOOD about towels. I don't know what's happened.

And neither do I. The wash-machine is running right now, full of towels. The five rods in the children's bathroom have wet rope-like things hanging on them, which I assume are towels. After having drunk a cup of strong coffee this morning, I dared a peek into my oldest son's room. Towels.Two on the bed, one on the floor, one over the curtain rod. Wet. My daughter is neater. Her three wet towels draped over the end of her bed. That cat lay on the fourth.

"I had to train my husband when we were first married," confided my friend. "Did you?"

"No," I had to admit. "He trained me, towel and clothes-hanging-up wise."

Now, I am sure we are not the only mothers of college returnees experiencing this problem. I'm sure we're not the only ones seeking solutions - fast!

I have several ideas. They are:

Let sleeping towels lie. Let them collect where they will. When the children run out, point firmly to the piles of mildewing towels and say, "You wet your towels, now dry them." Then go out to lunch with a friend.

Dole out, military - like, one bath towel per child at the beginning of the week. Hide all the rest. Ignore their pleas and cries. Collect towels at the week's end, wash them, and repeat the process.

Buy a dozen new towels. Initial them and stack them on each child's dresser. Encourage them to use the washing machine themselves.To assume responsibility, as it were.

Give in. Make a daily collection, being sure to check all possible wet-towel storage areas: Under pillows, in drawers, on the closet floor - and in the bathroom. Simply wash them force a smile and say to yourself: "But it's so nice to have the children home,"

However:

If we let sleeping towels lie, the house will soon smell like a swimming pool dressing room. Worse like the locker room of the boys' gym.

One bath towel a week may mean not washing so often. The boys' locker room syndrome again.

New Towels are expensive and, sure as the sun rises, each child would use the large-load cycle to do two towels. Water and electricity bills would soar even higher.

Give in. The only solution. And as you listen to the purring of the dryer, repeat over and over, it's so nice yo have them home, it's so nice to have them home, it's so nice to have them home . . ."